WHAT CAUSES BLOATING?
New research shows gas producing bacteria in the upper GI tract can cause bloating and abdominal discomfort. For decades, members of the medical community focused on alleviating abdominal discomfort by targeting the colon. The upper GI tract was never considered a possible source of symptoms because this area was thought by doctors to be nearly sterile and immune from bacteria.
How could an area of the body believed to be nearly sterile cause bloating and abdominal discomfort, (with or without constipation, or diarrhea)?
THE INITIAL TRIGGERING EVENT
We now know that bacteria can enter the upper GI tract and begin to grow through a triggering event that causes stress to the body, such as illness, trauma or even certain foods. When a person experiences one of these stressful events, the body’s ability to move partially digested food quickly from the stomach to the upper GI tract is compromised. Trapped bacteria in the upper GI tract begin to feed off starches and produce hydrogen, which then sets up an environment for the unwanted bacteria to feed and produce methane gas. This gas causes bloating, abdominal discomfort and potentially a change in bowel habits—constipation, diarrhea or both.
BLOATING—CAUSED BY METHANE PRODUCED IN THE UPPER GI TRACT
Bloating and abdominal discomfort occur when an excessive amount of bacteria from the colon move up into the upper GI tract, which is normally nearly sterile. These bacteria turn a typically free-flowing sterile environment into one with a much slower motility. In this state, the upper GI tract can’t effectively absorb nutrients from ingested food and move it along to the colon.
BLOATING—BACTERIA CREATE A
VICIOUS CYCLE OF DISCOMFORT
The abundance of hydrogen gas created by bacteria in the upper GI tract creates the perfect environment for a potentially vicious cycle of symptoms and suffering. The bacteria use hydrogen as fuel and produce methane gas as a byproduct. This gas acts as a paralytic, further reducing movement in the GI tract, which allows bacteria more time to feed on starches and produce additional hydrogen.
The bacteria then uses this additional hydrogen to produce even more methane gas, which continues the cycle. Since the body doesn’t readily absorb methane gas the bacteria produce, most of the gas gets trapped, causing distention in the GI tract and bloating. As it moves down into the colon, the gas works as a paralytic agent, sometimes causing constipation.